As a business owner, I have worked my share of 70 hour weeks. And looking back, I do not regret it. Putting in my dues has strengthened my mentality and the dividends received as a result have been astounding. But as I deal with my business as well as hundreds of client businesses, I realize that the majority of people don’t want to work 50 plus hours a week until they retire. At one time, the thought of putting in these hours, with steady income and retirement eventually down the road, created contentment, but after I decided to get out of my comfort zone (read: workaholism) and live life to the fullest, I found a true happiness that I had previously never known (and it doesn’t involve slaving away endlessly).
Stop Deferring Your Life
I have found a multitude of benefits after I stopped “deferring my life” as Tim Ferris says. Instead of working towards the long-term goal of retirement, I work for a greater purpose, which includes a couple mini-retirements a year. As a CPA, I am constantly helping clients with their finances. But without financial and personal goals in sight, financial planning can only take you so far, so I created an additional service focused around goal setting. But this is an immediate goal setting practice, not one that positions you for retirement at age 70. We determine the goals, determine the current position of the business, and then create a plan to go from point a to point b. As a business owner, I want to determine my goals, as well as the budget necessary to reach and to maintain these goals. I have positioned my firm to reach that potential, through tax strategies, process improvements, employee positioning, and cash flow management. I am not a rich individual. You do not have to be rich to stop deferring your life. You just need to set up a plan and let go of the fear that society has bestowed upon you.
Practice Good Time Management
It is tough to make the leap into this new way of thinking, but you do not have to do it all at once. Plan for it, and take small steps. It is more of an art than a science. Find out what works for you. I have noticed that I can get things done on a deadline much faster than I can get things done when there is ample time. So I use the deadlines to my advantage- I bunch to-do’s up during tax season…I bunch financial reviews up towards the middle of the month, and I bunch tax planning up quarterly. This requires me to fully focus on the tasks at hand when I need to do them. Then, when there are few deadlines in sight, I can focus fully on advising clients, scaling my firm, and training my team.
Don’t be a Micromanager
I never miss an opportunity to train my team to take over what would get in the way of my ability to escape the rat race. The only time I don’t push them to take over certain to-do’s is when I can automate those to-do’s. You also want to give your employees autonomy. It is amazing how much they will learn on their own, and how much smarter they become, when you allow them to make key decisions. But you do not want to give them to-do’s with no direction in mind. This is not fair to them, and although delegating without planning is a very appealing idea, because it involves little work, you will pay for it in the long run. You want to train employees to understand your methodologies and your madness and set up well-defined plans to allow them to have the autonomy they need to complete those tasks with as little micromanaging as possible. Of course, to reach your goals, a team of employees is not mandatory. This can certainly be done as a sole-practitioner with no contractors or employees.
You also want to establish processes and make sure you keep a record of these processes. Typically, it is wise to begin process formation before getting your team on board, but you also want to allow your team to feel comfortable giving you feedback through this process. I don’t like to look at myself as a boss. I’m more of a facilitator that keeps the wheels moving. I love growing my business, and I believe it can be done very healthily if there are processes in place.
Once you have processes in place and the right people, you will want to continue to keep an eye on the company as the team leader. If you have a technician/integrator/manager in place, and you have the luxury of handing the day-to-day management over to them, you can adjust your sole focus to controlling the growth of the company.
Determine Your Goals
Every business is different and every person has different goals. I own a small accounting firm, and I want to travel the world. I am starting to be able to do that, but I am not fully there yet. It will constantly be a work in progress. I believe that even if I never become a multi-month a year world traveler, I would not look at this endeavor as a failure. It is still a healthy process that allows me to become a better visionary and allows me to trim the fat and redundancies out of my life and my business. There are many things that can be eliminated from work and life, and I will continuously work on finding new things to either eliminate, automate, or delegate. This will eventually create an ultra-refined set of rules to live by. But the paradox is that these rules will also allow me to be more free and give me more time to explore the world and my capabilities.
You Can Get Out of The Rat Race
This can be done. You do not have to be rich. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We are made to believe that we should be in this rat race together. It is good for the grand scheme of the economy, and it is also an easy escape from the awareness that is you. Most people would rather be unhappy than uncertain. As Mark Twain says, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” You don’t have to work for work’s sake. You need to occasionally ask yourself if you are being productive or if you are just being busy. You need to be ruthless in this analysis, and don’t overwork or overthink. You have the capability to bend reality to your will. It will create more happiness. Trust me, if you go into this, and you realize it is not for you, you will not have any trouble becoming a workaholic again. It will be right there waiting for you, just as a beer is always right there waiting for the undecided alcoholic.
Every Journey Starts with the First Step
The journey is never easy. If it was, it would not be as fulfilling. You will find the journey to stop deferring your life to be a life-changing process. This is an additional benefit on top of the mini-retirements and the search for your ultimate business purpose.
The journey starts with research and having the right people in place. As a CPA, there are some parts of the journey that I focus on more than others. For example, depending on where you go, there are some tax strategies that can be utilized. Some countries do not require you to pay an income tax if you do not add to the economic infrastructure of that company. If you move to one of these countries, and all your clients are US citizens living in the US, then you may not be required to pay any income tax in to their government. There is also the possibility of taking the foreign earned income exclusion if you are residing outside of the United States.
Then there are investment tools like the Roth IRA with many potentials for the young saver. There are backdoor ways to contribute to one if you make too much money, and other ways you can pull funds out tax and penalty free. It is a great retirement tool, for now at least. Politicians from both sides sometimes agree that changes should be made to restrict some of these benefits. But the tax strategies are endless. Once you figure out how to set up the business with automated and efficient processes, as well as placing each member of your team in the right spot, you can move on to understand your finances, potential tax strategies, and your budgets needed to assist you in your new lifestyle.
Start by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
To start, do something everyday that is both out of your comfort zone and pushes you towards your ultimate goal. But also remember that the process is actually the beginning. You start this new way of life as soon as you make the decision. Although you may not recognize the fruits of your labor quite yet, don’t forget to reward yourself everyday for the work you put into this planning. This new business methodology will venture over to the personal side of your life too. I moved from my downtown office to my home office, because I found a way to stack chores on top of chores so that I can efficiently and quickly manage my day to day living. I have also figure out how to stack good habits on other good habits to create a lifestyle that is healthy and seamless. But remember, your goal is to beat the game, not to play the game. It is easy to find yourself getting trapped again, so always be cognizant of it. Most people choose unhappiness over uncertainty. Don’t be most people.
Who are you going to be? I know who I am not going to be. I am not going to be another rich fat man in a Mercedes sitting in traffic heading towards impending doom.